Alcohol-induced lipid and morphological changes in chick retinal development

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004 May;28(5):816-23. doi: 10.1097/01.alc.0000125343.01149.4d.


Background: Alcohol exposure causes alterations in the lipid content of different organs and a reduction of long-chain fatty acids. During embryo development, the central nervous system is extremely vulnerable to the teratogenic effects of alcohol, and the visual system is particularly sensitive.

Methods: White Leghorn chick embryos were injected with 10- and 20-microl alcohol doses into the yolk sac at day 6 of incubation. The lipid composition of the retina was analyzed in embryos at day 7 of incubation (E7), E11, E15, and E18. The percentages of phospholipids, free cholesterol, esterified cholesterol, diacylglycerides, and free fatty acids were estimated by using an Iatroscan thin layer chromatography flame ionization detector. Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry were used to determine fatty acid composition. The morphological study was performed at E7, E11, and E19 by means of semithin and immunohistochemical techniques.

Results: In the retina, alcohol causes the total lipid content to change, with a remarkable increase in free cholesterol and a dramatic decrease in esterified cholesterol. Diacylglycerides and free fatty acids tend to increase. Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine decrease, whereas phosphatidylserine, sphingomyelin, and phosphatidylinositol increase. The main fatty acids of the retina also undergo changes. At E7, myriotic acid increases, and oleic acid and polyunsaturated fatty acids such as arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid decrease. From E18 onward, there is some recovery, except for fatty acids, which recover earlier. From a morphological point of view, alcohol effects on retinal development are various: increase of intercellular spaces in all cell layers, pyknosis with loss of cellularity in the inner nuclear cell layer and ganglion cell layer, retarded or disorderly cell migration, early cell differentiation, and loss of immunoreactivity for myelin oligodendrocyte-specific protein.

Conclusions: Acute alcohol exposure during embryo development causes the lipid composition of the retina to change, with a trend to recovery in the last stages. These alterations are in line with the changes observed at a morphological level.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chick Embryo
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Retina / drug effects*
  • Retina / embryology
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retina / pathology


  • Ethanol